A lifetime of writing distilled on stage

ct Mary & Conquerer interview Francis Chouler as Hephaistion and Armand Aucamp as Alexander the Great in Mary and the Conqueror.

Rafiek Mammon

FRANCIS Chouler describes himself as “fierce” because he is the youngest of four children, and as “someone with big dreams because he is from Plumstead”, he laughs. And for those who are asking who he is, you may have seen him in The Taming of the Shrew at this year’s Maynardville Shakespearean production. He played the young lover, Lucentio.

Chouler is the kind of young adult who clearly knows what he wants from the theatre industry, in which he is still very much a baby, confidently saying: “I have tenacity, and enormous passion for the craft of acting and the people I work with, but I don’t eat, sleep and breathe acting. I keep balanced.”

He can be seen in Juliet Jenkin’s new play, Mary and the Conqueror in the Artscape Arena until Saturday.

What exactly does he, as young actor, expect from, and how does he see the industry?

“It means that I am hungry for opportunities to apply myself. I have no time for jaded opinions of the theatre and acting as a profession in this country. I see things in terms of possibility,” Chouler answers emphatically.

Even so, his opinion of theatre in the city and the country reveals a hint of cynicism: “I see a city bulging with talent and potential, and I see an enormous hole. There is a lack of mentorship, nurturing of young talent and building of actors and acting. Related to this is a lack of value for what we do, from both inside and outside the profession.”

About the play and his role, Chouler describes Mary and the Conqueror as a play about “the extraordinary imagination of the writer Mary Renault; about her obsession with Alexander the Great. Juliet has written a beautiful play that imagines an encounter between these two ‘greats’.

“Alexander, who was spoken for in such brilliant detail and volume by Renault, has a chance to say a few things in return.

“I love the text. Juliet has taken a sweeping mass of history and a lifetime of writing and distilled from it a piece of theatre that is simple and elegant.

“When Juliet’s first play, The Boy Who Fell From the Roof, opened, I wanted to be one of those actors. Now I am.”

He continues by talking about his role in the play alongside heavyweights such as Diane Wilson and Adrienne Pearce: “I play Hephaistion, life-long friend and lover to Alexander. Hephaistion grew up with Alexander, was a high-ranking general and remained devoted to him until his death. It has been wonderful to explore the nature of the special relationship they shared, in a time where this kind of love was the ultimate honour.”

Roy Sargeant directs; and about working with an esteemed director such as Sargeant, Chouler says: “Roy is so knowledgeable on this period of history. It has been wonderful to have his insight. As a director he knows what he wants and what works, so there is always a clear focus, which makes my job a joy.”

I ask him to complete the sentence: People should come and see this play because… And his answer is a categorical: “It might be the last time you get to see Diane Wilson on a stage.”

And, in a cut-throat, highly competitive industry, where does Chouler see himself heading?

“I just want to have a career as an actor. I feel like I am part of a new generation of actors that don’t care about the detractors; that are slowly and steadily building careers, despite the lack of work and stiff competition. I want to prove that this is a viable career path, and I want the industry and the audiences to grow with me.”

l Mary and the Conqueror runs at Artscape’s Arena Theatre until Saturday. Tickets are R60 and R80. To book, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or Artscape Dial-A-Seat at 021 471 7695.


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